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Leading the Race

Tavis Smiley urges student leaders to grab the baton of leadership
and hand off a better future to the next generation

By Add Seymour Jr.

National talk-show host Tavis Smiley told a packed Morehouse auditorium that leadership during these crucial times is critical in ensuring that the current generation of African Americans leaves things in better shape for their future sons and daughters.

“We are responsible for not dropping this baton,” said Smiley, during his October lecture at the Bank of America Auditorium at the Leadership Center. “We’re not responsible for the condition we find ourselves in, but we are responsible for getting out of it.”

Morehouse was one of five stops on Smiley’s “Talented Tenth HBCU Tour,” which is his effort to urge African American college students to grab the mantle of leadership of their community.

The tour institutions also include North Carolina A&T State University, Tennessee State University, Prairie View A&M State University and Florida A&M University.

“It’s critical that we talk about what leadership is, how we redefine that and how we frame that,” Smiley said before taking the stage. “The statistics say that the generation following us will be the first generation of black folks in America to not do as well as the preceding generation of black folks in America. That presents a daunting challenge for us as a community.

“This reputation that Morehouse has for putting out leaders is a reputation they have to stand firm on more now than ever,” Smiley said.

Morehouse junior Derrick Johnson of Detroit was one of 12 students who got a private meeting with Smiley before the lecture started.

“I believe that as young people it’s our responsibility that we are model leaders so that the generation coming up after us won’t be misled into thinking that sometimes you can be a leader, but behind closed doors you can do something else,” Johnson said. “We have to make sure we are the leaders we say we are.”

Atlanta University Center students, faculty and staff filled the Leadership Center’s auditorium. Smiley found it ironic that he was appearing at the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr.’48, who he called the greatest American this country has produced.

“Every time I come on campus like I did today, I slow down the car, stop, get out and bow down at that statue,” Smiley said of King’s statue at the King Chapel.
President Robert Franklin said Smiley has at least one of King’s attributes and that of the new Morehouse man.

“Tavis Smiley, I believe, himself is a Renaissance man,” Franklin said.
Smiley told the audience members that leadership begins with a commitment to the people who need to be led.

“You can’t lead people if you don’t love people and you can’t save people if you don’t serve people,” he said to applause. “If you call yourself a leader, what is the depth of your love for your people and what’s the quality of your love for them?”

It was a message well taken by Morehouse sophomore Darius Melvin.

“It was well needed,” said Melvin, an electrical engineering major from Rochester, N.Y. “At lot of people at Morehouse have lost the true vision about what it is to serve,” Melvin said. “So it is a welcome message for students trying to lead.”

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